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Permaculture: Nuance within the big picture

Posted 4/1/2008 10:52pm by Leaf Myczack.

Due to the importance of this subject, we are leaving this blog up as the current topic for another week. Please read and pass it on. Thanks 

I have been reading a fascinating book titled "Toward Saving the Honeybee" by a beekeeper named Gunther Hauk. For me, it is a captivating look at the natural dynamics of bee colonies from the most holistic and natural world perception I have yet come across. Completely devoid of the typical anthropocentric viewpoint of modern-day honey production, it is both refreshing and sobering. It also strikes a familiar resonance with my experience of recently being treated for my immune system disorder with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Just as TCM treats the whole body, not just a specific illness, so too does Gunther Hauk advocate a holistic, inter-related approach to reversing the current collapse of the honeybee colony. While USDA scientists chase one fragmented theory after another in search of the "cure," the basic premise of our human relationship to the honeybee goes unchallenged. Like most everything else concerning the natural world, humans have abandoned respect and reverence for the web of life, and replaced it with an extract and exploit-for-profit mentality. That approach has wreaked havoc in the natural, non-human realm, which in turn is having a significant negative impact on our own health and well being.

In the contemporary industrial agriculture paradigm, "honey is money" has become the bottom line approach to bee stewardship. The hive is treated as a honey machine and the workers viewed as production units. Non-producing  "units," the drones, are considered superfluous and treated like a mistake of nature that needs elimination without regard to their unseen or unknown function within the bee colony. Honey stores are robbed down to the last ounce, and sugar water or corn syrup is substituted. Bee pollen is also taken and the bees are given a soybean based replacement. It is the equivalent of serving velveeta in lieu of genuine aged cheese made from real milk. Is it any wonder that most large commercial bee operations have malnourished bees, which are highly susceptiple to disease and colony collapse?

Compounding the mistakes of overharvesting the honeybee food supply is the introduction of plastic hive components. While bees do much better in round hives, they have seemingly adapted themselves to the wooden rectangular hive, which is a big convenience to the modern beekeeper. However, bees still need to produce wax (for building combs and sealing the hive) in order to flourish. Plastic hive components rob them of this critical function. Also, wood and plastic are very dissimilar materials, having different "energy" and nurturing properties. They are not readily interchangeable for maintaining a vibrant lifeforce within a beehive.

As American agriculture becomes more mono-crop oriented, food for pollinators becomes scarce to non-existent. Honeybees (and to a lesser extent bumblebees) are trucked hundreds or even thousands of miles to "chase" the bloom of fruit, nut, and field crops. Genetically Modified crops may produce pollen that is toxic to bees! Combined with a diet of "junk food substitutes" such as sugar, corn syrup, and pollen substitute, along with a host of toxic chemical compounds to control honeybee colony parasites, the stress level in beehives has to be constantly pushing the critical boundary.

Here at the Broadened Horizons Farm, we attempt to work within the natural cycles, rhythms, and limits of the natural order. We treat our bees as valued members of our farm community. We use diverse planting of clovers, vetch, flowering trees, and other plants to provide nectar and pollen throughout the warm weather months. We mow sparingly to allow the widest possible variety of flowering plants to grow unhindered. We provide the most ideal habitat conditions, including shelter from winter wind, shade from afternoon summer sun, and a nearby water source, for the placement of our beehives. Through our organic-soil enrichment program, we provide healthy soil to grow healthy plants that feed healthy honeybees. We hold the health of the honeybees to be as important as our own health, which is inextricably tied together in our finite natural world.


-farmer leaf